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Fall 2006 SPREE West Highlights

SPREE West Kicks off in High Gear!

Anticipation and excitement were in the air during the opening day of SPREE West, with more than 85 exhibitors occupying more than 100 booths, all showcasing products for the specialty retail market. The SPREE West premier sponsor was Happy Feet/Animal Feet and associate sponsors were FANMATS and Forever Collectibles.

The show got off to a fast start this first day, with Flowlab introducing its new kiosk and in-line program for independent entrepreneurs who want to tap into the fastest-growing segment of the sporting goods market: action sports. New for 2006 for the specialty retail market is the company’s Snowskate, a snowboard-like item with small skis on its underside. Flowlab has 10 more unusual products, including Flowboards, Nuclear Pickles, Bomb Factory skateboards, Snowchucks and action-sports apparel—about 40 SKUs in total. Through its new specialty retail licensing program, Flowlabs expects to have 15 to 40 kiosk and in-line owner/operators in place across the US by the start of the holiday season.

Another new-product debut at SPREE was the invisibleSHIELD, introduced by ShieldZone, maker of unique accessories for iPods, cellphones, PDAs and other electronic gadgets. Brought to market earlier this month, the invisibleSHIELD is a paper-thin yet incredibly durable urethane film designed to protect all types of electronics from damage. ShieldZone, the sole manufacturer of the invisibleSHIELD line, sells wholesale and retails its products from eight ShieldZone RMUs in three states and expects to double that number by September.

imageAnother company with a new iPod-related product generating a lot of buzz at SPREE West was ifrogz, which is entering the specialty retail market this year. Brought to market by the same company that developed Reminderband custom silicon wristbands, ifrogz iPod cases, introduced in April of this year, are a patent-pending three-part design that allows customers to create a personalized case that reflects their own lifestyle or interests. Thousands of design options are available in a mix-and-match format, so customers can “build” their own iPod case. “There are literally thousands of design combinations we can offer customers,” to fit their own personalities, just like the music stored on their iPods, said ifrogz’ vice president of sales Kevin Rohwer.

Targeting a different—but also fast-growing—market, this year the makers of the Rudolph & Me holiday ornaments and home décor products introduced a new line for tween girls, Meme Couture, and is ready to roll out the specialty retail concept for the holidays. Designed by the same artist who has created hundreds of Rudolph products, the Meme line is fresh and original, and will no-doubt appeal to the young, hip market. Products include: best friend necklaces, story necklaces, keychain and cellphone charms, computer-talk charms and traditional enamel charms in a variety of themes, all with tween-oriented colors and shapes. Creator Susan Brielmann explained that the products are “all about the kids expressing their personalities. A lot of the success of a product [in the specialty retail market] depends on keeping it fresh—and we get that. We’re applying the same concepts for success that we’ve used in the ornament business for years, and we’re very confident” that the concept will be a hit.

Another company with significant experience in the specialty retail market is Swisa Beauty, which announced several recent product introductions at SPREE West, including extensions of its beauty product lines as well as a complete gel candle concept, the beautiful Sensation Candles by Swisa Beauty and a new India-inspired apparel line, Karisa, which features vintage saris from India in three different lengths that “can be wrapped 100 different ways to create a new look every time,” designer Karisa Luiza said. “They’re wearable art.”

After a day of networking and making deals, more than 125 exhibitors and attendees headed to GameWorks at The Pike at Rainbow Harbor for dinner, drinks and a fun-filled night of friendly bowling contests and gaming. The opening-night social events were sponsored by Developers Diversified Realty and Creations at Dallas.

Video gaming favorites included the virtual rollercoaster and Kentucky Derby games, but the bowling competition sparked the most excitement, with participants competing for prizes. And the winners were…

Door Prize: $50 Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. gift card, to Shelly Zilpa of Heaven ‘n Herbs. Bowling prizes went to: 1st place, with a score of 155: The Pike at Rainbow Harbor cooler and officially licensed FANMATS tailgating rug, awarded to Roni (no last name and company affiliation available); 2nd place, with a score of 154: A $20 Borders Books gift card, awarded to Carolyn Snider of The Mills Corp.; 3rd place, with a score of 153: Officially licensed team merchandise from FANMATS, awarded to Jeff Isaacs of Gift Giant; 4th place, with a score of 150: Officially licensed team merchandise from FANMATS, awarded to Michael Brielmann of Gift Giant.

SPREE West Excitement Continues

Day 2 of SPREE West was just as exciting as Day 1, with exhibitors and attendees mingling, signing deals and making plans for a spectacular holiday season.

Michael Brielmann, Gift Giant’s president and CEO was happy to report that in addition to an overwhelmingly positive response to the company’s new high-end Personalized by Santa Christmas ornaments line, he was able to “secure about 40 new Personalized by Santa locations through our SPREE West presence and placed approximately 40 to 50 owner/operators at this Expo.” The high-end line is “a special collection of items that were designed specifically for the high-end consumer who’s searching for something unique and personal for the holidays,” Brielmann said. “The response at the show was fantastic. Specialty leasing managers from the malls could see our products first-hand next to those of our competitors and get excited about bringing our program into their malls… We showcased our high-end personalized Christmas stockings, table toppers, claydough ornaments, resin ornaments and hand-painted piggy banks… The footprint that we have in the specialty retail market thanks to SPREE has really helped us cement our program as the national leader in personalized Christmas ornaments. Specialty retail is absolutely the best way for us to drive sales revenue for our products.”

imageAnother product new to the specialty retail marketplace that created a lot of buzz was Togo Skates, a set of two in-line skate wheels in a compact, durable design that fits almost any shoe. This exciting new product is bound to be a hit with today’s uber-mobile young consumers. Company president Scott Kendall noted that Togos are a highly demonstratable product that encourages customer interaction and has an average order quantity of 2+ pairs. “Togos make a great Christmas product for specialty retailers because they not only tap into the toy angle, but also appeal to sports- and exercise-product buyers,” he said. “A lot of our buyers are in the to 5-12 age demographic, which has huge purchasing power, so we’re very excited about this new concept going into the coming holiday season. We can offer specialty retailers a buzz-generating product with strong sell-through potential.” Togo is based in Highland, UT.

One constantly busy booth at SPREE West was that of the FusionGlass Company, which was showcasing dozens of stunning dichroic glass jewelry designs and a variety of accessories. The complete line includes pendants, necklaces, earrings, cufflinks, bracelets, belts, wine stoppers, bookmarks and—introduced for the first time at SPREE West—the beautiful new Evolution Series of necklaces. These one-of-a-kind creations are the brainchild of Debbie Solan, the company’s resident artist. The line is new to the specialty retail market this year and Solan and her partner Paul Fernandes were anticipating brisk sales at the show and a busy holiday season. “The price points are fantastic, with a wholesale price of $5 turning into a $30 retail sale,” said Solan. If the reaction at their exhibition booth is any gauge, shoppers will soon be buying their own unique FusionGlass works of art from many RMUs and kiosks in major US malls.

imageNew for SPREE West this year from Swanee, GA-based Fanmats is an exclusive-to-specialty-retailers line of officially licensed team car mats, mascot cutout rugs, 6-foot photo mats featuring panoramic game photos and sports landmarks, an exciting new furniture line with suede team recliners in both adult and children’s versions, reclinable game chairs, and a World Soccer line of car mats and rugs. Yet another interesting new concept is the company’s new Electric Fun Bike, or EF-Bike, which has taken off since being introduced to the market during SPREE East in Boston in early May. Fanmats has created a complete turnkey start-up package for that concept and the company expects to have 25 EF-Bike specialty retailers up and running by the holiday season.

For more than 10 years Pat Yates has been continually reinventing the slipper market with his Happy Feet and Animal Feet lines, and at SPREE West he showed off the company’s latest designs—more than 30 different Animal Feet styles including kangaroos (with baby in pouch), giraffes, penguins, cats, dinosaurs, pandas, koalas and armadillos, among others. Also new this year: NBA-licensed slippers featuring the 30 NBA teams, in vibrant official team colors. For mall leasing reps the company has introduced a static-advertising program, which includes and eye-catching RMU stocked with Happy Feet and Animal Feet products, company brochures and a main advertising board that publicizes both the company’s products and its turnkey start-up package for independent owner/operators. The static-advertising program was created “to not only bring in new owner/operators but also to land new product sales through our website,” Yates said, adding that the malls receive a portion of product sales generated from the website. The company is based in Louisville, KY.

Day 2 ended with a fun-filled Casino Night at the nearby Westin Hotel, where more than 100 attendees gathered to play blackjack, craps, roulette and poker. During the party, sponsored by SolarEx Sunglasses with prizes sponsored by Gift Giant, players showed their skill—and a little luck—turning their initial $500 allotments into thousands of dollars (some more, some less), which were then exchanged for raffle tickets. At the end of the evening, raffle numbers were drawn—and the winners were: Grand prize: a $750 gift certificate to The Pottery Barn, awarded to Amy Hall of G.K. Development, Inc.; second prize: a $500 gift certificate to Home Depot, awarded to Karen Schubert of The Mills Corp.; runners-up: $50 gift certificates to Starbucks, awarded to Amanda Cole of Desert Passage, Deborah Lahti of Provenzano Resources, and Guy Granada of AGA Wholesale.

SPREE West Has Strong Last Day

“We’re ecstatic about our attendance for Long Beach and are hearing great things from our exhibitors, with deals getting signed, relationships being solidified, retailers finding new products, and big sales taking place every day,” said show director Sally Miller. “Exhibitors showed off their best products and created a tremendous amount of excitement from specialty retailers and leasing managers who came to see the latest-and-greatest in our industry.”

Patricia Norins, publisher and founder of Specialty Retail Report, said both exhibitors and attendees “were excited about this year’s complement of unique new products along with the traditional strong sellers in the specialty retail market. Many exhibitors this year were premiering new products and show attendees responded, so we’re very happy about not only this show, but we’re already getting excited about next year’s SPREE East in Baltimore, MD in April.”

imageNew products on display at Day 3 of SPREE West included adorable plush products with a unique twist from Fragrant Friends, based in New Vienna, OH. The company dips teddy bears and other plush products in scented waxes so customers “get the candle fragrance without having to light it,” according to Owner Tiffany Shinkle. Shinkle created the products several years ago, based on a similar idea spotted at a craft show, and tested the concept on a RMU in “a relatively slow mall” for the holidays 2005. When sales topped $40,000, she knew the product had potential going forward. She is hoping to operate four company-owned specialty retail locations for the coming holidays.

At Bear Hands, Vice President Michael Wolinsky was premiering the company’s newest line, Bellaboo, a collection of “buddy hats and scarves” that feature small plush animals peeking out from hattops or perching on scarves, giving youngsters “fun ways to snuggle with their [plush] buddies and leaving little hands free to play,” Wolinsky said. Other unique new additions to the company’s offerings include “buddy clothing” and accessories such as pocket purses, ponchos, jean jackets, baseball caps and sunhats. The products beautifully complement Bear Hands’ successful line of unique Thinsulate-lined fleece and faux fur mittens for adults and children of all ages. The company is based in Little Ferry, NJ with a Woodland Hills, CA satellite office.

imageAt the show, Forever Collectibles, based in Edison, NJ, was on the lookout for west coast owner/operators who want to sell sports licensed merchandise, gifts, and holiday oriented merchandise. New for 2006 this year is the company’s line of licensed slippers (MLB and NBA), scarves, youth and baby Santa hats and a full line of licensed holiday ornaments. “The show was very successful for us in finding owner/operators in the west coast area,” said sales rep Russell Repka. “We found possibly 40 different operators who want to do our concept in less than three days.” The company offers more than 30 different product lines, covering all sports, all teams and all leagues. Best sellers include adult Santa hats, stockings, slippers, scarves and ornaments.

Another fresh product rolling out for 2006 is a line of coin-activated sound banks from Initials by Joseph K. & Co. based in Hololulu, HI, also the creators of the wildly successful Christmas ornament concept Santa’s Pen. The non-ceramic sound banks are shatterproof and come in 14 animal designs, each of which makes the appropriate animal sound when fed coins. “The banks are in limited release right now and selling superlatively, and have a wider release for holidays 2006 with a full release for 2007,” said Micheal Brother, national program consultant for the company. “They’re a wonderful year-round concept when combined with Initials’ other personalized children’s gifts, including our wooden picture frames, growth charts and a wide variety of room d√©cor items… We’re expanding our pool of west coast operators through this show, which was our goal. We pioneered the personalized Christmas ornament concept in 1995, so we have a great deal of experience and expertise to bring to our owner/operators and are looking forward to a great holiday season.”

Looking forward to 2007, stay tuned for news and information on SPREE’s Baltimore show in April.

Thanks to everyone for a fantastic show!

Nancy Tanker

Nancy Tanker is the former managing editor of Specialty Retail Report. She has covered the specialty retail industry for nearly 15 years for a variety of publications and can be reached at

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